Highlight the Highlands: Winter Events and Things to Do

The winter holidays are a time of joy, fun, family, and friends. However, it can also be a time of heavy eating, staying inside, and falling behind on routines. Are you looking for a way to enjoy the Pennsylvania Highlands over your winter break?

Our partners are holding great events all over the Highlands that would make great activities for families or anyone who wants to use their time off to explore! Here are some ideas of things to do through the New Year in and around the Highlands region that can help you get outdoors.


Make time to get outdoors

The days leading up to Christmas can be busy – cooking, wrapping gifts, and traveling. If you’d like a way to step away from the craziness of the holiday season, there are a few events happening this weekend that will help get you outdoors and reconnect.

Delaware Canal State Park is a great PA Highlands resource for all sorts of recreation, and will be holding a special Full Moon & Winter Solstice Towpath Trek on December 21st. Experience the official heralding of winter with the full moon as you follow the path of 19th mule driven canal boats along the water.

In the central PA portion of the Highlands, the Harrisburg Bike Club runs weekly group bike rides on Sunday afternoons. Starting at Mehanicsburg High School, this ride will take in the beautiful countryside at a moderate pace.

Take in the morning splendor with a hike at Monocacy Hill Recreation Area, hosted by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Starting at 8:30AM, this hike gives you plenty of time to get up, outdoors, and moving around before the commitments of the holidays start rolling in.

·         Full Moon & Winter Solstice Towpath Trek, December 21, 2018: 4:00 PM – 6:30 PM Delaware Canal State Park

·         Group Bike Rides – Sunday Afternoons, December 23, 2018: 1:30 PM – 4:00 PM  Mechanicsburg Area High School

·         Monocacy Hill Morning Hike Sunday, December 23, 2018, 8:30AM – 11:30AM Monocacy Hill Recreation Area


Take in the history

Everyone knows the story of George Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Eve. But have you ever seen him in action? Washington Crossing Historic Park will once again be conducting their annual reenactment of this iconic moment on Christmas Day. It’s free to experience this reminder of the importance of the Delaware River, which has been occurring for 66 straight years!

The Delaware River isn’t the only place around the PA Highlands that bears Washington’s mark. Join the Appalachian Mountain Club for a mid-day hike around Valley Forge National Historic Park! Walk off that Christmas dinner as you explore the lesser-known trail system of the famous national park. Revolutionary artifacts and replicas can be seen along various points of the hike, and participants can roam through the visitor’s center to be reminded of all the way the PA Highlands have been home to crucial events throughout our country’s history.  

·         Christmas Day Crossing Reenactment, December 25, 2018 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Washington Crossing Historic Park

·         Valley Forge Noon Hike, December 26, 2018, 11:45AM – 2:30PM Knox Quarters at Valley Forge


Experience a new place

The days between Christmas and New Year’s can often feel like a holding pattern – what do you do while you wait for the next holiday? The PA Highlands has plenty of great recreational areas that you can explore with your friends and family during those in-between sorts of days.

Take a trip to French Creek State Park, where AMC is holding two different hikes on the days after Christmas. On December 27th, you can join a moderate hike around the Northern and Western portions of the park. On December 30th, say goodbye to 2018 with a hike around French Creek’s lakes! If you’ve never been to French Creek State Park, one of the PA Highlands’ great assets, these hikes are the perfect opportunity.

In the central region of the Highlands, the Environmental Center at Lancaster County Central Park is holding a variety of activities following Christmas. For those who want to take in the splendor of wildlife, a winter bird count will be held on December 29th. For those with bored little ones who need to stay entertained, on December 30th the park will sponsor a “Winter Hike for Tikes.”

·         Moderate Hike in French Creek, December 27, 2018, 8:30AM – 2:00PM French Creek State Park

·         Winter Bird Count, December 29, 2018: 9:00 AM – December 29, 2018: 11:00 AM  Lancaster County Central Park – Environmental Center

·         Sunday Hike Around the Lakes, December 30, 2018, 8:45AM – 11:45AM French Creek State Park

·         Winter Hike for Tikes, December 30, 2018: 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Lancaster County Central Park – Environmental Center


Take a “First Day Hike”

Almost all of the state parks, recreational areas, and nature preserves throughout the PA Highlands are holding “First Day Hikes,” a perfect way to ring in the new year by enjoying nature with loved ones.

In the Eastern portion of the PA Highlands, the Wildlands Conservancy will hold their hike at the South Mountain Preserve in Emmaus. Berks Nature will be hosting a New Year’s Day Hike at Earl Poole Sanctuary in Alsace Township. State parks such as Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center, Delaware Canal State Park, and French Creek State Park are all sponsoring their own first day hikes.

If you’re in the central or Western region of the PA Highlands, Gifford Pinchot State Park is holding multiple first day hikes at their property. You could also make your way to first day hikes at King’s Gap Environmental Education Center in Carlisle and take in the spectacular views, or to Pine Grove Furnace State Park and learn about the Highlands’ storied industrial history.

First day hikes, all events occur on January 1st, 2019:

·         10:00 AM – 12:00 PM, South Mountain Preserve

·         10:00 AM – 11:00 AM, Earl Poole Sanctuary

·         10:00 AM – 11:30 AM; 1PM-2:30PM, Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center

·         11:00 AM – 1:00 PM, French Creek State Park

·         1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Delaware Canal State Park

·         1:00 PM – 2:30 PM, Gifford Pinchot State Park

·         2:00 PM – 3:30 PM, Kings Gap Environmental Education Center

·        1:00pm, Pine Grove Furnace State Park


Start the New Year right

You’ve made all your resolutions – now what? Put them into action! These 2019 events throughout the PA Highlands can help you stay on track to moving more, getting outdoors, and connecting with your community.

Come back to Washington Crossing Historic Park on January 2nd for the hike with AMC. This hike will bring you along the Continental Trail, bringing you right back to 1776 with Washington’s army.

Lancaster County is also hosting a variety of post-New Year events in their portion of the PA Highlands. Learn about “Animals in Winter” back at Lancaster County Central Park’s Environmental Center or celebrate National Winter Trails Day at the park’s Muhlenberg Wildflower Meadow, both occurring on January 5th. On January 10th, commit to that resolution of volunteering more by joining Lancaster County Conservancy at Otter Creek Campground for a clean-up of the Otter Creek.

·         Washington Crossing State Park Hike, January 2, 2019 10:00am Washington Crossing State Park

·         Animals in Winter, January 05, 2019: 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM Lancaster County Central Park – Environmental Center

·         National Winter Trails Day, January 05, 2019: 1:00 PM -2:30 PM  Lancaster County Central Park Muhlenberg Wildflower Meadow

·         Otter Creek Clean-up, January 10, 2019 9 AM – 12 PM Otter Creek Campground